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Facebook responds to claims of biased Trends, says it has neutrality guidelines

TechCrunch TechCrunch 9/05/2016 Josh Constine and Sarah Buhr

Facebook says it’s against its trending topic curation policy to suppress or prioritize specific political views, and that it has guidelines in place to preserve consistency and neutrality. This would imply that blame for any deviation from these guidelines would go on the contractors paid to curate the trends it shows.

In a statement in response to Gizmodo’s report that conservative trends were suppressed, Facebook wrote:

“We take allegations of bias very seriously. Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. Trending Topics shows you the popular topics and hashtags that are being talked about on Facebook. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.”

Former Facebook “news curators” told Gizmodo they were instructed to “inject” certain stories to make them appear to be trending news topics on the platform, even if they weren’t that popular.

Facebook was also accused by former workers of suppressing other trending stories if they didn’t agree with those monitoring the trending topics feed – especially if the stories were conservative.

“I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz,” one former employee who wished to remain anonymous told Gizmodo.

The news outlet published an earlier piece about these same “curators” and their harsh working conditions last week, calling the company out on degrading conditions – stuck in a conference room for months, forced to speed write quick hits to fill out the trending portion found on the upper right side of Facebook’s site.

What we have from the report is anecdotal and it’s tough to know what’s going on. Facebook’s biggest problem may have been not realizing humans have biases – including political ones.

Though it may have had neutrality guidelines in place about how to curate the trends, it’s possible that contractors with inherent biases were hired, and then went on to bend or break the rules. A more rigorous oversight system may be necessary to ensure that the neutrality guidelines are strictly adhered to.

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